North Absaroka Wilderness


Pilot and Index Peaks at the northern end of North Absaroka Wilderness
Pilot and Index Peaks at the northern end of the North Absaroka Wilderness
North Absaroka Wilderness

North Absaroka Wilderness is a 350,488-acre property that borders the eastern side of Yellowstone National Park in Shoshone National Forest. This is a large piece of almost completely undisturbed countryside in the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The mountains are volcanic in origin, which makes for some very rugged countryside with deep, steep canyons dropping down from glacier-carved peaks that top 12,000'. A large part of the wilderness is essentially inaccessible. Complicating matters are the numerous creeks draining all that lower landscape covered with fertile volcanic topsoil: a heavy summer rain can turn a peaceful creek into a raging river of mud in minutes.

Even though the wilderness offers some 217 miles of trails, none of them are maintained and the signage is almost non-existent. The trails also tend to be steep, narrow and long, usually following drainages up and down the countryside. The only way to make your way from one drainage to another is climb beside the creek to the headwaters ridge and then cross the ridge to descend into another drainage. Most visitors come during big game seasons, looking for elk, moose, deer and bighorn sheep. There aren't many lakes but there are plenty of streams. The streams that are large enough also tend to be full of brown, brook, cutthroat and rainbow trout.

One thing to be very careful of: the grizzly bear has done very well in this wilderness since it was reintroduced many years ago. Every year people get hurt by being either completely silly or completely oblivious to their presence. They are a force of nature to be reckoned with in these hills... You'll want to be practicing extreme bear discipline or you'll be literally risking your life.

Summers tend to be relatively cool, dry and short. The flying insect situation isn't usually too bad, once you get past black gnat season in late May and June. Because most of the human traffic is concentrated in certain areas on certain trails in the heart of the summer season, the limited number of appealing campsites can lead to some serious overuse problems.

Photos courtesy of the US Forest Service